Yvonne Gonzales has always wanted a family. After a miscarriage in her twenties, she feared the dream would never come true until just a few years ago, when she got pregnant at age 33. Now she has three beautiful children.
“I have been wanting to be a mother for the longest time and never thought that I could have any,” she says.
Luckily, however, her fears were not realized. Yvonne gave birth to a healthy baby girl, followed by a second daughter, and then she got pregnant with her third, a son. However, while she was pregnant with her third child and still nursing her second, she discovered a painful lump in one of her breasts.
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“I was in tune with my body, and I kept telling my doctors, ‘Something’s wrong. It’s not normal,’” she says.
Yvonne’s doctors were at first reluctant to give her a mammogram due to her age and her pregnancy and started her with an ultrasound instead. The results came back clear, but she knew something still wasn’t right. So she persisted, returning to her doctor, who sent her for a mammogram.
Often, doctors are concerned about the radiation from a mammogram impacting a woman’s unborn child or her breastmilk, since this topic is not well studied. However, the American College of Radiology says the level of radiation in a mammogram is low enough to be safe for pregnant and lactating women.
Breast cancer currently impacts only one in 3,000 pregnant women, but it’s expected to hit harder in that demographic in future years as women delay pregnancy until later in life. It’s important to get a mammogram if you think you need one, regardless of whether you’re pregnant or lactating or considered low risk. Waiting the length of a pregnancy to get checked could mean getting diagnosed with a later-stage cancer and having a worse prognosis.
After Yvonne’s mammogram, Dr. Kolluri and Dr. Hossain at the Austin Cancer Center reviewed her results and diagnosed her with breast cancer.
“Thank God that Yvonne didn’t let it go, and she went and got it checked out, because then the mammogram showed 14 1/2 centimeters of calcification — spanning the entirety of her breast,” Dr. Kolluri says. “That’s a very large area of calcifications. And all of that was cancer.”
Dr. Hossain adds that “a second evaluation was honestly the game-changer” in preventing Gonzales’s mass from developing into a more invasive and less curable cancer. Yvonne really did catch it right at the nick of time.”
The cancer diagnosis was a terrifying one for Yvonne, who couldn’t bear the thought of possibly having to leave the little family she’d waited so long to get.
“I automatically thought of dying. That I didn’t — I don’t — want to die,” she says. “I thought of my children, of me finally becoming a mother. Having not just one but three. To not be here for them would be the hardest, hardest thing ever.”
Yvonne underwent a mastectomy, performed by Dr. Kolluri, while still pregnant with her son. A few months later, she gave birth to her healthy baby boy, Mason. Afterward, she began radiation treatments on her chest wall, which she could thankfully safely do while breastfeeding her son from her healthy breast. She didn’t have to stop breastfeeding until she went on medications to keep the cancer from recurring.
Yvonne is now encouraging other women to be their own advocates when they suspect something is wrong with their bodies. If she hadn’t continued going back to her doctor for more answers, she would likely not have caught her cancer before it had spread further, leaving her with a much worse prognosis.
“You know your body better than any physician knows your body,” Dr. Hossain says. “Understand your concerns and be an advocate for yourself. At the end of the day, if we do a workup and everything is negative, you’re reassured that you were empowered and you took control of your body — and that you feel good about your negative results.”
Yvonne also feels strongly about sharing her survival story with her children. She’s already educating her eldest daughter about what happened and how important it is to be an advocate for yourself and your own body.
“I explained to her, ‘If the doctor hadn’t removed my breast, then I would no longer be here,’” she says. “She’s smart…so, she’ll ask from time to time. She’ll put her arms around me, and she’ll tell me she loves me. That’s just the best feeling.”
Congratulations on your new little family member and on catching your cancer before it got worse, Yvonne! We wish you all the best!
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